While it’s exciting that Broadway’s redesign is busy shouting to New York City what was whispered to Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come,” what’s more thrilling from a transportation perspective is that the redesign might also be convincing people of the inverse: If you take it away, they will go.
Between the gushing reviews of a new urban space and glorious pictures of pedestrian packed streets, it’s easy to forget that the city’s “Greenlight for Midtown” program was primarily billed as a way to reduce traffic congestion throughout Manhattan by the most counter-intuitive means: taking away space from cars.
Although induced demand and its inverse, sometimes called “traffic shrinkage,” have become pretty well accepted in transportation-planning circles, to have a concrete (and beach chair-filled) example of it at the crossroads of the world is an obvious boon for those who wish to make the case that closing streets to cars, rationalizing intersections and improving the pedestrian environment can be a sensible solution to vehicle congestion.
Broadway’s angular scramble from 72nd Street to Union Square has been an ink stain on the crisp, angular and pen filled breast pocket of Manhattan traffic engineers for decades. It cuts across the Avenues making odd intersections and forcing strange signal patterns, as well as drawing peripheral traffic into the city’s core. Nowhere was this more obvious than Herald Square and Times Square, precisely where the City has redesigned Broadway.
Although the Transportation Department won’t release a comprehensive traffic analysis for sometime, anecdotal evidence suggests that the redesign has been a success, not only in its much-lauded efforts to give pedestrians a bit more breathing room, but also as a counter-intuitive traffic curative for all the world to see.
As with all review and opinion pieces posted on Urban Omnibus, the views expressed are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.
Graham T. Beck is a writer and a critic based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He rides a bike to work.